Blog

Content is important; we all know that. Relevant, engaging, informative and entertaining content is a must. Well-written content, to AHA, means more than it just being interesting. It means that it should be grammatically correct, it should be cogent and it should have a solid flow.

Blogs, like this one, have a little bit of leeway because it is written in a more conversational manner. (It would still bother me if there was a typo or other error in this blog.) Anything that is shared internally or externally should be reviewed. Here at our Vancouver PR agency, we have an editing and proofing process that we strictly follow. The input of the crew is important and each person is encouraged to question not just the information presented, but the style, tone and the word structure and grammar. It isn’t always easy or comfortable to do this, but it is important.

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Warning: Longer blog post – I’ve had a thought running around my brain all weekend and now it’s time for it to come out!

We have a lot of brainstorming meetings internally at our Vancouver PR agency and with our clients. Creative concepts for campaigns, developing story ideas for pitching journalists, bloggers and other social media communities, events, speeches, content for newsletters. The list goes on and on. As creative as we can be (and we can be quite creative), when we brainstorm there is always a focus on the business objective and on the relevance of the concept we develop.

We have a good reputation with journalists and bloggers for pitching them with newsworthy, relevant ideas. I learned a great deal about writing a solid pitch when I was at Maclean’s – we saw a lot of good, bad and really, really ugly pitches come in and I was fortunate not just to have my take on them, but to hear what my colleagues thought made a pitch relevant enough for them to want to find out more about the idea. We also have a smart crew here at AHA, who put their experience and expertise to the task and who review pitches and put forward additional ideas and concepts because our focus is always on creating something interesting and of value that catches the attention of the journalist or blogger we are pitching.

I had a discussion last week that really got me thinking about the importance of relevance when it comes to pitching. I know that there are sometimes challenges internally at organizations when it comes to defining what makes a good story. When you work for an organization you can lose perspective on the bigger picture. Sometimes, what is huge news for the people of a company or organization isn’t relevant to a journalist or blogger. It doesn’t take away the importance of the initiative, it’s just about who will find the information relevant and interesting.

PR people all have stories of clients who say to them X publication or Y broadcast news outlet should run this story – when, in fact, the story isn’t relevant to the readership or audience of that media outlet. It’s our job to make sure that when a pitch or news release goes out to media, it is of value to the media and bloggers that it goes to. Sometimes that means having a tough conversation with clients and explaining why something isn’t newsworthy outside of their internal newsletter.

I got to thinking about this on the weekend and I think that, with social media, individuals involved in organizations are becoming more and more involved in sharing information. In many ways, that’s a great thing. The challenge is that if people are being tasked with creating content – whether it is a tweet, a blog post, a Facebook update or a pitch, these people need to be given the tools of identifying what is relevant, being able to clearly showcase how this content supports the organization’s business objectives and how it fits in with the overall business strategy and the communications strategy.

I know how easy it can be to watch a morning news show or local talk show and think we should be on there. A good communicator goes through an in-depth process, looking at what the business objective is, to identify the media and/or bloggers that are relevant to the organization (what newspapers, magazines, radio or TV news does your target market consume?) what the story is, how that story can be put forward to specific media in a way to showcase its relevance and value to their audience/readers.

I think one of the challenges that organizations are starting to face is making sure that everyone involved with communication – whether they are in the communication department or not – understands how to effectively communicate. That it isn’t about what you want to tell people, it’s about what they are interested in hearing and how you build information into a compelling story. I do sessions with groups that talk about what needs to be done in order to generate media or blogger coverage or to create positive information sharing on social media networks and I can’t tell you how often someone in the session puts forward the arrogant assumption that because it’s important to them (or the organization), that it SHOULD be important to media or bloggers. That’s when we role-play the pitch to the journalist (me) and I start poking holes in their approach (respectfully, of course).

Collectively, the media experience at AHA is well over 100 years. We take this component of our work very seriously because each time we reach out to a journalist or blogger with a pitch, not only is it the reputation of our client being put forward – it’s ours too. If a journalist or blogger thinks you regularly send them information that isn’t relevant to their readers, listeners or viewers, you lose credibility. We don’t want that for our clients.

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AHA - Facebook imageI have to admit that I have a bit of a split personality when it comes to social media use. On Facebook I have a blend of personal and professional contacts and there are days when that can be a little…different. To say the least.

I have great friends. They are creative, talented and most of them are living life to the fullest. Which means every once in a while, their Facebook posts can be surprising or even a little shocking.  Nothing illegal, immoral or unethical – it’s just that they can be a little wild sometimes. They are my friends for a reason – I like them, I love hearing about their lives – especially the ones that live in other places that I don’t get to see often. And their cheekiness delights me.

However, every once in a while, I wonder if any of my clients, professional colleagues or the journalists that are my Facebook friends look at my pals and wonder what the heck is going on – these people are crazy!!!

And then I wonder if my personal “friends” look at some of the postings from others – usually about PR, communication and social media – and wonder if I have a life outside of work. (I have to admit, I wonder that myself sometimes.)

I have been paddling around online for quite some time (since I was director of communications at Vancouver Film School and the New Media Program was launched in 1990). When Facebook arrived on the scene, I embraced it and jumped right in without much of a strategy about how to manage my personal and professional worlds. On Facebook, to quote George Costanza of Seinfeld fame, my worlds collide.

When we started AHA, we wanted to create a company that was authentic, that represented who we are – and that includes our crew. What we do as communicators creates a special connection with our clients and colleagues. It gets personal – even when it’s business focused. Having said that, even if the only friends I had on Facebook were from my personal life, there is information I just wouldn’t share on there. I think more than separating business from personal, what bears thinking about is how much of your life do you want out there on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere online? There is a point where it is just too much information. Some things are best kept for in-person conversations.

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Yesterday morning I found myself sitting in the Vancouver Airport, getting ready to fly to Cabo San Lucas. Paul and I are working here this week (and, hopefully, getting some sun and fun in too!). I realized that I didn’t have a “work” related book to read on the plane. I quickly opened my iPad and did a quick search for books I have been meaning to read, but haven’t got around to yet. Brian Solis’ book Engage has been at the top of my list for a while, so I downloaded that to my iPad and read it on the plane.

I am a big fan of Brian’s. If you are a communicator that wants to take your social media to that next level, I strongly suggest following Brian’s blog and connecting with him on Twitter and Facebook. 

I also highly recommend Engage. It shows you how to move forward in social media for your organization without overwhelming you or making you feel like you are so far behind that it’s too late. It’s a great book.

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Quite often we, at AHA, are asked to develop a speech for our clients. I love speech writing, but have to admit – it’s not easy to develop a great one. It takes a lot of time and effort. For a speech to have an impact it has to have several elements, including being written in the voice of the person who will deliver it, containing good information, providing value and authentically connecting with the people listening.

At AHA, we spend the time needed to write great speeches for our clients.  We interview the speech giver, understand the culture and expectations of the audience and research the facts and stats – not to mention craft the language and the message. I usually lock myself away for a few hours and come out and give the first draft of the speech to the AHA crew to get input and feedback. Then it’s back to it again for a few more hours.

Invaluable resources when writing speeches are books. I was delighted when I found a piece on Ragan.com on the must have books for speechwriters. This is a great list and one that had me jumping onto Amazon immediately to add to my collection.

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